The missing side to every story

By:Claudia Williams

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Last month, Rolling Stone released an article “A Rape on Campus: A brutal assault and struggle for justice at UVA.” It was about a violent rape that occurred on a college campus fraternity in 2012. Due to the touchy nature of the subject, the victim Jackie, asked the writer of the story, Sabrina Rubin Erdely, to refrain from speaking with her attackers and to keep names private. When the story was published, it made worldwide headlines and put the fraternity and campus into question.

Weeks went by, and now the tables have turned. Issues with the campus and fraternity rape have died down, and something bigger has come into questioning. Since Erdely did not interview or speak to the accused men, she did not get the two sides that every story has. Pieces of the puzzle are missing, and now the whole story is being scrutinized and is getting extreme backlash.

Rolling Stone has recently retracted their article and some of the information in it based on new found evidence and interviews that discredit Jackie and her story she told Erdely.

“In the face of new information, there now appear to be discrepancies in Jackie’s account, and we have come to the conclusion that our trust in her was misplaced. We were trying to be sensitive to the unfair shame and humiliation many women feel after a sexual assault and now regret the decision to not contact the alleged assaulters to get their account. We are taking this seriously and apologize to anyone who was affected by the story,” said Will Dana, the Managing Editor for Rolling Stone.

The Washington posted a story stating key pieces in Jackie’s story are false or confused. The fraternity is denying ever holding a party where the rape occurred, among other facts that are turning out to be false.

What this story brings up is something journalists face every day. Credibility, fact checking, and reliable sources. When Jackie asked that the men who assaulter not be contacted, Erdely chose to honor this request to show respect. But in doing so, she failed to get both sides to the story. What do you think the reported should have done? Should she have gone against Jackie’s wishes and gotten the other side of the story? Is it more important to get true and credible sources than it is to respect a victim? How do we as journalists, write about touchy subjects like this?


6 responses to “The missing side to every story

  1. As a journalist, I think that she should have talked to the assaulters as well. She may not have had to use all of the information she gathered, but at least she could see both sides of the story and try to figure out the truth. Also, even though Jackie didn’t want her to talk to them, she could have talked to them and wrote about it but just not used their names (because I’m sure they wouldn’t want their names published either). This is a tough topic to write about, and of course you do not want to offend anyone in the situation, but also it is your job to write and report about these things. As a writer, it’s all about how you go about the situation and how you handle it.

  2. This is a tough topic for many reasons. I agree the journalist should have tried to get both sides of the story, but discrediting Jackie entirely seems harsh.

    Granted, I don’t know everything about this case, but her friends could have lied or Jackie might not have been sober if/when this happened.

    But if the fraternity party’s date didn’t line up with the day Jackie said she was assaulted, that should have been a warning alarm to the journalist. I think the journalist could have definitely double-checked facts on those lines.

  3. This is a tough call, and one I don’t believe the journalist should have made by herself. What probably should have happened was a conversation with her editors of the publication and even more higher-ups if they deemed it necessary. Ideally, there would be an agreement between the reporter and the source and an understanding that the story should remain relatively free of bias. Credibility and truth should go hand in hand with the source’s wishes, but again this is not always the case. I don’t believe that the truth should be overlooked to respect the wishes of the source, because that is doing a disservice to readers and the source, who is then portrayed in a negative light.

  4. This is a touchy subject matter, and I agree with Sarah that it’s not a decision that should have been solely made by the writer herself. The topic should have been brought to an editorial meeting to discuss what ways they could handle the victim’s request, while also ensuring an objective and truthful story. Magazines typically have a thorough fact-checking process, and this problem might have been avoided if they did speak with the men of the fraternity to even do something small like confirming the dates of the party. I think the writer might have been able to speak to the fraternity without necessarily mentioning the exact incident as well. With controversial subjects like this it’s important to have a few people working to assure the article remains well-researched, unbiased and honest.

  5. I agree with Courtney and Sarah, this is a sensitive subject to address especially by yourself. The writer should have consulted editors or just other writers to get their opinion on the situation. Personally, I feel that the writer should have contacted the assaulters. The victim did not have to be in the room when the interview happened or even had to know about it. As journalists it is our responsibility to report the truth and to know the whole truth you need to talk to everyone involved in a situation.

  6. I agree with the comments above. This should have been a group decision because it isn’t an easy one. The interviewee should not control the story, and that’s what appears to have happened. I think it would have been better to get both sides, and now seeing as facts aren’t adding up, it’s making Rolling Stone look less credible. It’s a touchy subject, but it’s still news, so both sides still need to be heard.

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